One of the latest cases heard at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/retired-solicitor-struck-off-for-overcharging-dead-clients-estate/5108891.article) raises a familiar issue of a solicitor being tempted in to acquiring a financial benefit from an estate by improperly raising invoices that resulted in the estate being overcharged by £13,000. The Tribunal commented:
‘The sums involved were not huge, but they represented a significant and high percentage of the value of a modest estate and the harm was nevertheless real.’
The hearing also established that the solicitor was made the client’s main residuary beneficiary after the client had fallen out with relatives. He was gifted around £15,700 by his client before she died in 2011 with assets of almost £34,000.
Setting aside the finding of dishonesty regarding the overcharging, this case serves as a reminder for all lawyers working with potentially vulnerable clients. It is important for them to understand the guidance issued by the SRA and the Law Society in relation to vulnerability, financial abuse and gifts.
The SRA’s guidance https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/guidance/drafting-preparation-wills/ on the drafting and preparing wills provides a very clear steer for all lawyers regarding the conduct issues that can arise when offered a gift by a client. The guidance is also useful for what you should consider when a client might decide to appoint you, your business or other people in your business as executors in the will you are drafting for them. The appointment of professional executors has been exploited by lawyers disciplined at the Tribunal as a means of controlling and misusing the money in the estate and as a way of overcharging the estate without the scrutiny of other lay executors.
The Law Society also publishes a range of material to assist lawyers to meet the needs of vulnerable people and preventing financial abuse of those clients. This guidance is essential reading for anyone involved in delivering legal services to potentially vulnerable clients.
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